The recent settlement in the case of the six imams, or Islamic religious leaders, who said their rights were violated in 2006 when they were removed from a US Airways flight in Minnesota should not prevent anyone from acting on legitimate security concerns. But reports based solely on anti-Muslim or anti-Arab bias and hysteria should not be used as the basis for a “flying while Muslim” incident.
Absent actual suspicious behavior, merely offering one of the five-daily Islamic prayers in a terminal, speaking Arabic to a fellow passenger, wearing a head scarf, or “looking Muslim” is insufficient justification to detain passengers or remove them from a flight.
In July, a federal judge agreed that the imams’ actions before the flight did not justify their detention. She noted that the imams were subjected to “extreme fear and humiliation of being falsely identified as dangerous terrorists,” and said “similar behavior by Russian Orthodox priests or Franciscan monks would likely not have elicited this response.”
American Muslims are just as concerned about flight safety and security as citizens of other faiths. They and their families take the same flights and are subject to the same risks as other members of the travelling public.
Flight safety should be based on legitimate law enforcement techniques, not on racial or religious profiling.
Our nation’s civil rights movement has been advancing steadily for decades, despite calls to maintain the status quo or suggestions to curtail the rights of certain citizens. That movement toward justice for all must not be put into reverse because of post-9/11 fears. When anyone’s rights are diminished, all Americans’ rights are threatened.
America is an increasingly diverse society in terms of race, religion and ethnicity. The best way to react to that increased diversity, and to prevent situations in which stereotypes or bias can create a snowball effect of escalating discrimination, is to learn more about the faith and background of our fellow Americans.
Our nation’s history has been marred by periods in which groups — whether Irish Americans, African Americans, Japanese Americans, or others — were deemed appropriate targets for discrimination.
Thankfully, Americans are capable of looking beyond the prejudices of the moment to see a future of equal treatment for all.
[Ibrahim Hooper is national communications director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).]